Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed a bill Friday prohibiting the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans. It is a sad chapter in a story of arrogance on the part of supposedly responsible American and Russian leaders that has an impact on the most unfortunate -- abandoned Russian children and hopeful American would-be parents.
It all began when Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the so-called Magnitsky bill, which normalized trading relations with Russia but also imposed sanctions on travel and holding assets in the United States by Russian officials whom the U.S. government considers responsible for civil rights abuses. The case that stirred Congress' attention was that of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was jailed for criticizing Mr. Putin's government and died in prison in 2009.
Considering the U.S. law an example of unacceptable extraterritorial legislation -- and therefore interference in Russia's internal affairs -- the parliament passed and Mr. Putin signed a measure halting Americans' adoptions of Russian orphans. Russian nongovernmental organizations are already forbidden to accept future American donations. The Russian legislation also provided for improvement of the facilities and circumstances under which Russian orphans are served.
Mr. Putin took the occasion of the law to criticize what he considers other American violations of human rights, including in Afghanistan and Iraq and the U.S. Navy prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the mistreatment of a few Russian orphans by their adoptive American parents.
American families adopted an estimated 1,000 Russian orphans in 2011. By ending this practice, the Russians will bring heartbreak to the Americans who endure the expense and the emotional roller coaster of seeking such children and financial damage to the agencies and individuals which handle the transactions.
Russian orphans are often not cared for in the best of circumstances in Russia and, in general, an adopted American child has prospects of a better life over the long haul than a Russian child in an orphanage. So the 120,000 Russian children awaiting adoption are also losers in this contest of wills and bills between the U.S. and Russian governments.
An African proverb says that when elephants fight, the grass gets crushed. In this case, the two governments are the unthinking animals and the Russian children and American would-be parents are the ones who suffer.